With Transparent garnering rapturous reviews and already racking up some love from awards groups (including a Golden Globe win for Best Comedy Series), Amazon has released a new assortment of pilots for its users to watch and rate, in an effort to help decide what will go to series in the future. So far, Amazon has only dabbled in comedy (though that changes in a few weeks when Bosch releases), so that's where I started my viewing binge with this latest crop of shows, and it was an easy start since there are only two in consideration, as opposed to four dramas.
Click through for my reviews of Down Dog and Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998.
Logan (Josh Casaubon, One Life to Live) is a handsome yoga instructor in Southern California who's lead a totally carefree life. His good looks have gotten him far, with jobs, women, and opportunities always seeming to fall into his lap. But that all changes when he's dumped by his longtime girlfriend and business partner Amanda (Paget Brewster, Criminal Minds). She wants a commitment, but that's a foreign concept to an eternal drifter like Logan. So he decides to get serious about his career and buy out Amanda's share of their yoga studio and prove to the world that he's got beauty and brains.
The biggest problem with the first of only two half-hour comedies Amazon has up for consideration is that it doesn't actually feel like a comedy. Or rather it does, but a really strained one. I get that the creators think lambasting the overly healthy, juice cleansing, hypocritical love-and-light lives of Southern Californians is funny. But it's not. People have been doing this for about twenty years now in pop culture, if not longer. So to hear characters utter lines like, "Yoga is blowing up right now" or "Buddha needs to get his ass to Jenny Craig," feels nothing but dated. I mean, yoga has been a common physical activity in this country for at least a decade, and in SoCal for even longer. And when was the last time you heard of anyone doing Jenny Craig? These kinds of almost-jokes might have been funny in the 90s, but they're tragically out of touch in 2015 (no surprise considering Down Dog's writer, Robin Schiff, has most of her writing credits on late 90s shows like Almost Perfect and Grosse Pointe, plus the quintessentially 90s film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion). It makes for an awkward viewing experience, knowing what you're supposed to be laughing at but realizing it's not actually funny.
Aside from that, the cast is completely forgettable, particularly its leading man. Casaubon is bland and boring, just like the script. Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) is totally miscast as Winter, an addict with a punctuation problem who teaches at Logan's studio. She's cute and does the seduction scenes well, but she's not believable in the moments when Winter needs to switch from manipulative to not in a single moment. Brewster is playing a stereotype of women over the age of 30, a hardass who can only measure her success based on whether or not she's married, and her screen time is too little. She's been in a relationship with Logan for a long time, yet the two never share the screen together. So when they break up, there's no reason for the audience to care because we've never seen how they are as a couple, or even what they look like standing next to each other. Brad Silberling (Jane the Virgin) brings a nice, muted color palate of pale yellows and sandy browns as director, but he doesn't seem to know what to do with the tone or characters. I'm not sure anyone would. It's a bizarre, uneven, unfunny little show that doesn't have much going for it aside from a copious number of shots of Casaubon's naked ass.
The other comedy pilot on Amazon's docket fares a bit better. Salem Rogers (Leslie Bibb, most recently of About a Boy and GCB) is a former supermodel (the original Victoria's Secret angel) who has been in rehab for over a decade. After failing to make any strides whatsoever, the clinic throws her out under the guise that they are closing down. Salem falls right back into old habits and seeks out her former assistant, Agatha (SNL's Rachel Dratch), who is now a self-help author who based a book series about standing up to your bullies on her former wildchild employer. Salem manipulates Agatha, or Rags, as she calls her, into being her assistant again (and Agatha gets a book deal out of it, tracking Salem's "celebrity trainwreck" recovery) and helping Salem get back to the top of the modeling game in an industry that is completely different from the one she remembers.
The humor here is a bit too broad at times, and the script tends to lean on lazy jokes (like making burp and fart jokes at the expense of Salem, because apparently it's unexpected and funny for pretty people to pass gas). I mean, the whole concept is basically "model behaving badly;" the show could have been titled Bad Model. But the performances are winning, especially a neurotic, Debbie Downer-esque one from Dratch and the energetic, game-for-anything central performance from Bibb. She makes some of the more inane dialogue, written by actress-turned-first-time-writer Lindsey Stoddart, seem plausible and even fun. Lines like, "Go jerk off your tiny clitoris dick" are hard to sell for any actress, but Bibb makes it funnier than it is written there. The whole cast really is great, and they elevate the pretty standard story, which has shades of Californication and any underdog comedy, to something entertaining; this includes appearances by Harry Hamlin, Jane Kaczmarek, and The Neighbors' Toks Olagundoye, all doing really good work in small roles that deserve expansion should the pilot go to series. So while Salem Rogers is full of cliched jokes and sight gags (self help author who can't help herself, models eating junk food, people getting tasered, the drunken girls' night out), it's still somehow fun... not necessarily always funny, but a good time nonetheless.